Friday 25th May 2012 (Letter 14th November 1880)

GCC is confronted by a horrific scene on a coffee plantation

Today’s letter, in which GCC arrives back at the finca where he is staying just after a worker has been shot dead, serves to emphasize the violence that riddled Guatemalan society even then, long before the scourge of the drug gangs that are now terrorising both Guatemala and Mexico.

He also mentions his future brother-in-law J J Walker joining his ship H M S Kingfisher, and how he hopes that they will meet while both are in Panama – this did not happen as, although both were in the country at the same time, J J Walker’s ship was stationed in Panama City while GCC was in the Western province of Chiriqui; communication was so difficult in those days that they did not make an attempt to see each other.

It is interesting that he spells the city of Quetzaltenango without the first t, i.e. Quezaltenango. This appears to have been the correct spelling at that time.


November 14th 1880

My dear Mother,

I got your letter of September 16th a few days ago, also the five papers, all of which were very welcome, the same mail also brought me a very satisfactory letter from Mr. Salvin, and some parts of his new book, in which upwards of 40 species are described from those sent by me last year.

Was glad to hear that Walker had visited you before he left. I saw his appointment to the “Kingfisher” in the papers you sent. I hope I may meet him in Panama or elsewhere, but am afraid there is very little chance. Have just returned from a fortnight’s trip to the ‘Tumbador’ region, close to the Volcano Tajumulco and the Soconusco frontier. Tomorrow, start for Quezaltenango, 12 leagues distant, a few days there, then I descend again to Las Nubes, to get the result of my last 3.5 months’ work in order to ship to England from Champerico.

HMS Kingfisher

I left Champerico the day after I wrote last, arriving in Mercedes on October 23rd; on the 26th, I left again for El Tumbador.
Mr and Mrs Boy (both of whom speak English perfectly) have been exceedingly kind to me in Mercedes, this more than makes up for Mrs. F’s treatment, everywhere I have visited yet on this coast, I have been well received by Americans, Germans and Natives. Mr. Boy is an amateur photographer; he has photographed me and also my servant.

On Sunday October 31st, a deplorable affair happened at an estate called La Union where I was staying; while they were paying the Indians and the place crowded with them, one man was insolent to the Manager Jesús Paloma (a native). This so annoyed him that he took up his revolver and shot the Indian dead on the spot. I shall long remember that Sunday night, the wailing of the women and children of the Indians was heart-rending, none of us dared to go to bed, for we did not know but that they might attempt mischief – next day all went off in a body – the Manager, the Indians etc. to the nearest town, San Marcos, 25 miles away over the mountains; am very glad to say I was out when it happened, but returned very soon afterwards.

Very busy now on all these coffee estates, men, women and children all occupied picking; in December or January, they commence shipping the coffee. The rainy season is now nearly over, beautiful weather (so different to England in November), mornings especially, clouds over in the afternoon, but by evening all is clear again, of course, it is rather hot, but the mornings and evenings are cool and pleasant, thermometer about 78, falling 10 degrees in the night.
Was glad to hear that the cabinet, long looked for, has come at last, the extra charges I don’t mind.

Shipping coffee, Champerico, Muybridge, 1875

The remaining three or four months will soon go, I expect, shall then have to go to Panama en route for Port David, that is, if I carry out Mr. Salvin’s wishes. I am constantly packing and unpacking; have been busy all the morning getting ready for another start tomorrow, want to be off by 6 a.m., if possible, to make the ascent before the sun is too hot. Splendid scenery all along this coast, the sea below, but far away and the volcanoes in the interior, from El Tumbador we see the Volcanoes Tajumulco and Tacaná both very well, being so close, now and then we feel slight earthquakes; the Volcano Fuego has been quiet since July. Ashes fell all along these places during last eruption yet it is 100 miles distant.

A distant view of Tajumulco

Nov. 15. Arrived in Quezaltenango this afternoon after a long ride of about 35 miles. Found a letter from Mr. Godman awaiting me, he says he is very much pleased with Box No. 6, just to hand, containing the things from the Polochic Valley etc. by far the best lot yet sent, he says, so this is satisfactory.

Quite dry and dusty here now in these high regions (7000-8000 feet), rains over, corn, barley and oats just ripening, many mowers at work. Very gay everywhere now with flowers, wild dahlias especially, how different from November at home.

Leave again in two or three days for Las Nubes. It is wonderful the change of country, people etc every few miles in this country; nothing could be more different than Quezaltenango and Mercedes, productions utterly different, Indians different, etc, and so it is all over the republic, one constant change.

Have no time to write to the Entomological Society people about the cabinet, but if any of the members should call, you might say that I am satisfied.

I remain etc.

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